The IDF (Zahal) special forces units are internationally renowned – from their blockbuster hostage rescues, to their legendary counterterror operations. But before they join the action, soldiers go through demanding physical and mental examination even before enlisting. So, what do the elite hopefuls need to do to get into the IDF (Zahal)’s special forces units?
IDF (Zahal) Special Forces Day
Before drafting, those suited for IDF (Zahal) special forces units are chosen based on the scores from their pre-draft testing. Candidates with the right medical, fitness, and intelligence scores receive an invitation for the first round of testing: Special Forces Day.
Twice a year, hundreds of qualified aspirants undergo rigorous testing to try to earn a spot in some of the IDF (Zahal)’s most exclusive units. They’re examined on their strength, their physical and mental endurance, and their skills in teamwork and cooperation. Their tasks include everything from sprints to mind exercises. Commanders monitor the selected soldiers to assure they can handle both the physical and emotional strain of these units’ demanding activities.
Candidates who pass are invited to further rounds of specialized testing for one or more of the IDF (Zahal) special forces units: Sayeret Matkal, Shaldag (IAF commando unit), Naval Officers, 669 (IAF’s combat emergency rescue unit), Shayetet 13 (sea-to-land operations), and the submariners. The number of draftees that make it past this phase is slim; for example, only one third of the candidates successfully pass the first stage of tryouts for Sayeret Matkal. Those who make it to the unit are tasked with intelligence-gathering, counter-terrorism, and hostage rescue, just as they did in the famed Operation Thunderbolt.
The tryouts for prospective naval officers last five days, and include pool exercises, submersion tests, and marches. Unlike other IDF (Zahal) special forces hopefuls, they and prospective submariners undergo more psychological and intelligence testing than physical trials.
Going above and beyond
Special Forces Day isn’t the only way into the IDF (Zahal)’s most elite units. The Combat Engineering Corps invites its most capable soldiers to tryout for their Yahalom commando unit three weeks after recruitment. Soldiers who accept the invitation go through four days of tests designed to gauge their self discipline, creativity, quick thinking, and performance under pressure. Less than a quarter of the soldiers pass. Those who do go on to find and destroy terror tunnels, defuse bombs, and handle unconventional threats.
To join the ranks of the Paratroopers Brigade, hopefuls endure two days of tryouts that test their fitness, discipline, and physical and mental stamina. Those who pass can draft to the unit, eventually earning the coveted red beret. But the soldiers reaching for the top don’t have to stop there – the most promising are sent to a four-day-long tryout for the brigade’s special forces. Less than half of the participants pass. Those who do can join Duvdevan, an urban counter-terror commando unit, or Maglan, whose activities are classified. Both units are a part of the newly-constructed Commando Brigade.
Other IDF (Zahal) special forces units, like the Lotar counter-terrorism unit and the Oketz canine unit, can only be reached by drafting into particular infantry units. Men who want to join Lotar or Oketz draft to the Kfir Brigade. A week after drafting, they begin a four-day tryout. Women who want to join Oketz draft to the co-ed Caracal Battalion. Men and women undergo the Oketz tryouts together, and continue on as canine operators and work to locate bombs, terrorists, and other threats.
To carry out the most complex and dangerous operations, the IDF (Zahal) chooses only the best. These intense tryouts are how we discover the most capable men and women to build the most outstanding teams.